Mr. Trudeau: Don’t be so quick to brag about Sikhs in your cabinet – Ramesh Thakur

The latest complaint regarding the number of Sikhs in Cabinet (the selection of Parliamentary Secretaries somewhat addressed under-represented groups – see my deck Big Shift or Big Return? Visible Minority Representation in the 2015 Election for the numbers):

India is an exemplar par excellence of power sharing and political accommodation in a multi-ethnic, multireligious society. In a country where 80 per cent of the people are Hindus, at one point the heads of government, state and army were a Sikh, Muslim and Sikh respectively; and the real power behind the throne was an Italian-born Catholic widow. Diversity and pluralism have no better champion. At the official White House banquet hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama for India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – a Sikh – on Nov, 24, 2009, a glittering new dimension of Indian soft power was in evidence with the presence of many Indian and Indian-American women from the political, business, literary, cultural and educational worlds.

Sikhs make up under 2 per cent of India’s population, so two Sikhs in Mr. Modi’s cabinet is a better reflection of India’s diversity than four in Mr. Trudeau’s is of Canada’s demographic makeup. In fact the Congress Party, not Mr. Modi, needs a reckoning on Sikhs. After Indira Gandhi’s assassination by Sikh bodyguards in 1984, 3,000 Sikhs were slaughtered in a pogrom often orchestrated by senior Congress leaders, including more than 2,000 killed in the nation’s capital. One of the extraordinary features of modern Indian history is how Mr. Modi was demonized internationally for his alleged role in the anti-Muslim riots of 2002 in Gujarat but the Congress Party escaped global odium for its role in the worse atrocities of 1984. It is hard to see how there can be closure for the victims’ families until such time as there is criminal accountability for those events.

Moreover, any mention of Sikhs in the context of Indo-Canadian relations inevitably rakes up ugly memories from three decades ago, when Canada seemed to be home to a large number of separatist Sikh extremists.

On June 23, 1985, Air India flight 182 was blown up over the Irish Sea en route from Montreal to Delhi via London, killing all 329 people on board. Most were Canadian citizens of Indian ancestry. This was the first bombing of a 747 jumbo jet, the deadliest plane bombing, the deadliest attack involving an aircraft until 9/11 in New York and remains the biggest mass murder in Canadian history. The perpetrators are believed to have been Sikh terrorists, although the subsequent trials were less than satisfactory.

All in all, what may have been a lighthearted quip by Mr. Trudeau is fraught with hidden dangers and best avoided in future.

Source: Mr. Trudeau: Don’t be so quick to brag about Sikhs in your cabinet – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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